Interview with China’s ambassador: Does China’s values clash with Tonga’s Christian faith?

H.E. Cao Xiaolin, China's Ambassador to Tonga...Photo credit Matangi Tonga

An interview with Chinese Ambassador Cao Xiaolin – First Part

 By Kalafi Moala


This is the final of a three-part series of articles on Tonga/China relations including relationships with Chinese businesses operating in Tonga. This final article is an interview with Chinese Ambassador Cao Xiaolin, but because of space, it is split into two parts for easier reading.

His Excellency Cao Xiaolin

Nuku’alofa, Tonga – Of three Chinese ambassadors this writer has interviewed over the past several years, His Excellency Mr. Cao Xiaolin, is in my view, the most knowledgeable about Tongan history and culture. It’s not surprising since he was in Tonga 22 years ago at the establishment of the China/Tonga diplomatic relations. After 2 years working at the Chinese Embassy, he left but then returned in January of 2020 as the Chinese Ambassador to the Kingdom of Tonga.

The China and Tonga diplomatic relations have strengthened in the past two decades, despite challenges faced for various reasons. Questions raised are not necessarily by officials of either countries, but by concerned local Tongans as to the possible negative impact of Chinese influence on Tongan society.

It seems no one is complaining about the tremendous physical infrastructural developments funded by the Chinese Government, most are quite apparent in roads, wharves, schools, immaculate government office buildings, alternative energy plants, etc.

Even though there is the intermittent questioning of what would happen to Tonga if the Chinese loan is not paid off, most of the concerns are of a social and cultural nature. The loan which stands now at an estimated $240 million was borrowed by Tonga for the reconstruction of Nuku’alofa CBD after it was destroyed by the 2006 riots of 16/11.

But we need to let Ambassador Cao Xiaolin respond to the questions raised in this interview.

Question 1: What needs to be done to ease the concern that the Chinese Government’s current diplomatic relationship with Tonga could impose the values of socialism and Chinese communism into Tongan society’s deeply Christian value system?

Ambassador Cao Xiaolin: 

The world is heading toward a community of shared future for mankind to achieve common development and to address the challenges as well. This is a proposed solution by China to address the challenges the world faces nowadays.

All countries have rights to choose development paths suited to their national conditions and make contributions to human civilizations. Diversity in human civilizations not only defines our world, but also drives human progress.

There are more than 200 countries and regions, over 2500 ethnic groups, and multiple religions in the world. China has all along respected the diversity in human civilizations.

The Chinese civilization is one of the ancient civilizations in the world, with its main manifestation in the socialist system with Chinese characteristics under the leadership of the Communist Party of China.

Tonga is a country of unique history, culture and tradition with special influence in the Pacific island region and has been hailed as a pearl in the world civilizations. Both China and Tonga are now taking a development path suited to our own national conditions.

The two countries should achieve common prosperity and make the world civilizations more colorful through mutual learning and deepened exchanges.

Chinese people observe socialist core values, which include prosperity, democracy, civility, harmony, freedom, equality, justice, rule of law, patriotism, dedication, integrity, friendship.

These values do not clash with Tongan society’s Christian value.

We propose and exchange cultural exchange between countries so that we can learn from each other and better protect and carry forward our cultural heritage.

Historically, China is not an expansionist country, but has a rich and tolerant culture. If you have a chance to visit China, you will learn more about Chinese culture and China’s socialist core values.

Basic Policies in Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief

Respecting and protecting freedom of religious belief is a basic policy of the CPC and the Chinese government. Every citizen enjoys the freedom to choose whether to believe in a religion; to believe in a certain religion or denomination of the same religion; to change from a non-believer to a believer and vice versa.

Believers and non-believers enjoy the same political, economic, social and cultural rights, and must not be treated differently because of a difference in belief. The state respects citizens’ freedom to religious belief and protects their normal religious activities.

In exercising their right to free religious belief, believers should not interfere in the lawful rights of other people, or force others to believe in any religion. Believers should not discriminate against non-believers or believers of other religions.

No one shall use religion to interfere in the lawful rights and interests of citizens. Believers should respect public order, customs, cultural traditions and social ethics in exercising their freedom of religious belief.

The state treats all religions fairly and equally and does not exercise administrative power to encourage or ban any religion. No religion is given preferential treatment above other religions to enjoy special legal privileges.

The state manages religious affairs involving national and social public interests in accordance with the law but does not interfere in the internal affairs of religions.

The state protects citizens’ right to freedom of religious belief, normal religious activities and the lawful rights and interests of religious groups, bans illegal religious activities, prohibits the dissemination of extremist thought and engagement in extremist activities in the name of religion, resists the infiltration of hostile foreign forces taking advantage of religion, and fights against illegal and criminal activities under the guise of religion.

Religion in China

The major religions practiced in China are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism; with a total of nearly 200 million believers, and more than 380,000 clerical personnel. China has numerous Buddhist and Taoist believers.

The 10 minority ethnic groups, most of them believe in Islam, total more than 20 million, with about 57,000 clerical personnel. Catholicism and Protestantism have 6 million and 38 million followers in China respectively, with 8,000 and 57,000 clerical personnel.

China also has many folk beliefs which are closely linked to local cultures, traditions and customs, in which a large number of people participate.

There are approximately 5,500 religious groups in China, including seven national organizations which are Buddhist Association of China, Chinese Taoist association, China Islamic Association, Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, Bishops’ Conference of Catholic Church in China, National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China, and China Christian Council.

The Chinese government supports and encourages all its religions to conduct international exchanges, to build, develop and consolidate friendly relations with religious groups overseas, to enhance mutual trust and eliminate misgivings, and to present a positive image based on independence, equality and mutual respect.

Twenty-two years of China and Tonga diplomatic relations

Over the past 22 years since China and Tonga established diplomatic relations, our two countries have carried out many cultural exchange activities, which has promoted a better understanding between the peoples of China and Tonga. Never have I heard a single complaint from our Tongan friends that China-Tonga diplomatic relationship has undermined Tongan culture and Tongan Christian value.

On the contrary, as an ambassador, I respect Tongan culture. Hon. Prime Minister, Hon. Tu’i’onetoa and I co-hosted a meeting at the Chinese Embassy with all the other Cabinet Ministers on the further development of the friendly relations and cooperation between China and Tonga on 26th June 2020.

In my opening remarks at that meeting, I told the Hon. Prime Minister and the Cabinet Ministers that I respected Tonga’s national motto, which is “God and Tonga are our inheritance”. This also reflects the attitudes of Chinese diplomats towards a foreign country’s culture and social values. This attitude is deeply rooted in our foreign policy that China will not interfere in a foreign country’s domestic affairs.

Another example is that I have made friends with the Church leaders and would like to help the Churches if they need any help that the Embassy can do. I encourage the Chinese Tongans to go to Church on Sundays and integrate into Tongan society. There are around 50 Chinese Tongans who have converted to be Christians. The Embassy is happy to see that.

Articles run on Talaki Online

Many allegations in the series of articles run by the Talaki Online on China (story posted here) highlighted persecution of Christians, oppression of opposing views, and the communist party seeking world dominance.

The negative impact is that the articles by Filo ‘Akau’ola have misled the Tongan peoples’ perspectives on China-Tonga relationship. For example, one allegation by Filo ‘Akau’ola, which you also quote in your article, is “what I am most concerned about is that China is run by a Communist Government that has been in opposition to all that is valuable to a society like Tonga, and other civilized countries whose fundamental values are Christian.”

This is a very narrow-minded opinion. Culturally speaking, China and Tonga share similarities in social values and have some differences, which is very normal. Even Christian countries have religious differences.

Tonga is a unique country in the world. So, it is a right thing for Ambassador Latu to raise his concerns over Filo ‘Akau’ola’s ignorance about China and China-Tonga relations and the bad impact resulted from his disinformation in his articles.

The second part of the interview with Ambassador Cao Xiaolin will follow soon.



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